My Ántonia by Willa Cather

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Genre: Fiction

Page Count: 175

Publication Date: 1918

Summary: Jim Burden recollects the story of the Shimerdas, a Bohemian family who lived alongside his family on the Nebraska prairie as it was being settled.  The Shimerdas experience the usual joys and tragedies a family experiences, but they are magnified because of their experiences as immigrants.

Recommended: Yes.  Some of the reading is a little dry but overall the story is good.

Watch Out For: Because the story was originally published in 1918, there is some racism.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “Fuchs had been a cowboy, a stage-driver, a bar-tender, a miner; had wandered all over that great Western country and done hard work everywhere, though, as grandmother said, he had nothing to show for it.”     “He was a dapper little Irishman, very vain, homely as a monkey, with friends everywhere, and a sweetheart in every port, like a sailor.”

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The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

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Genre: Romance

Page Count: 546

Publication Date: 2003

Summary: As you can tell from the title, Henry and Clare end up married but the story begins when they first meet.  Theirs is no ordinary love story, though, because Henry suffers from chrono-impairment – he randomly travels in and out of the past, present and future.

Recommended: YES!  I loved this book because it’s not an ordinary love story.  Henry’s time-traveling adds an element of drama and excitement (and sometimes sadness and danger) to their relationship.  The ending made me cry and one scene was kind of unbelievable but overall it was a very good book. There is a reading guide at the end of the book that would be helpful for a book club discussion.

Watch Out For: Bad language throughout the book, Sex scenes, drug references, and a suicide scene.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “I’m wearing blue jeans, a baby blue sweater with little yellow ducks all over it, and a neon red down vest with pink tennis shoes. Really, it’s not surprising that someone would feel they needed to hit me.”      “Clare is eating something pistachio-colored that has several large shrimp poised over it as though they are nearsighted old men reading a newspaper.”

Sunday’s on the Phone to Monday

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Author: Christine Reilly

Genre: Fiction

Page Count: 318

Publication Date: 2016

Summary: This is the story of Claudio and Mathilde – how they met at a party and fell in love and eventually got married and had kids.  It is a story about life – about growing up and living in New York, about tragedies and miracles and the ordinary moments, about the passage of time.  It is a story about keeping secrets and telling truths.  It is a story about how different we are and yet how our lives are all the same. The story spans from the late 1980’s through 2016.

Recommended: YES.  This book is edgy, raw, and very real.  I felt myself connecting to many of the characters, even the ones who are most flawed.  The author’s choice of words is delightful; however, in my advanced reader’s edition there were numerous typos which I assume would have been fixed upon publication.

Watch Out For:  I thought I could include this book in my classroom library but after reading it, no way.  Watch out for inappropriate language (34 instances of the F-word), several drinking and drug references, multiple sexual references including sexual assault and prostitution, an attempted suicide and a violent death scene.

Noteworthy Excerpts:  “There are dreams out there for everyone, – Jane soothed herself upon waking. Dreaming was a more finished version of hoping.”     “On good days, her doctor would say, let’s see if we can try a smaller dosage. On bad days, he’d say, I’m sorry, and after supper they’d feed her more of what made her feel like she was made of soft-serve ice cream.”

Honoring the Medicine by Kenneth Cohen

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Title: Honoring the Medicine: The Essential Guide to Native American Healing

Genre: Reference

Page Count: 429

Publication Date: 2003

Summary: This well researched book explores Native American healing, spirituality and life philosophies.  Native American practices are compared with other worldwide indigenous practices and religions. Topics covered include the Vision Quest and dreams, smudging, sweat lodges, sacred pipe ceremonies, herbal healing, good and bad spirits and the importance of nature.

Recommended: Yes, this book is an excellent introduction to Native American beliefs and practices and would make a good reference book.

If You’re Offended: There are only three instances of bad language.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “Although pipes with a separate stem and bowl are now the most common, in ancient times, simple tubular pipes were created from the leg bones of deer, antelope, or other animals. Tobacco was packed in the wider end of the pipe, and the entire pipe could be wrapped with sinew or rawhide to prevent the hot pipe from cracking and to make it easier to hold.”    “Smudging means using the smoke and scent of a smoldering aromatic plant to purify a space of toxic energy, feelings, thoughts, or spirits and to create a fragrant atmosphere that attracts healing and helping powers.”

Three Cups of Tea

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Authors: Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin

Genre: Biography

Page Count: 349

Publication Date: 2006

Summary: Greg Mortenson, an expert mountain climber, travels to Pakistan to attempt to climb the world’s second-tallest mountain.  He gets lost from his team and ends up in the village of Korphe, a village that has never before seen an outsider.  The villagers take Greg in and care for him and in return, Greg promises to build them a school.  This is the story of Greg’s travels throughout Pakistan and Afghanistan, building schools and providing other instruments of humanitarian aid.

Recommended: Yes, I really enjoyed learning about the Pakistani culture though the book reiterates to me that this is a part of the world that I have no intentions of visiting.  One potential drawback to the book is that I found myself continually questioning how Mortenson and his team spend so much money in such a short amount of time, based on the figures and estimates he provides.

If You’re Offended: There are about 5 instances of swear words.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “After brewing green tea in a blackened tin pot, he added salt, baking soda, and goat’s milk, before tenderly shaving a sliver of mar, the aged rancid yak butter the Balti prize above all other delicacies, and stirred it into the brew with a not especially clean forefinger.”    “She wore her long hair elaborately braided in the Tibetan fashion, under an urdwa, a wool cap adorned with beads and shells and antique coins.”

The Professors’ Wives’ Club by Joanne Rendell

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Genre: Fiction

Page Count: 321

Publication Date: 2008

Summary: A group of women bonded by a secret garden in the center of Manhattan University. One woman is trying to gather the courage to leave her abusive husband. One woman is stuck in a loveless marriage and is torn between her lover and her husband. One woman is a stay-at-home mom who misses the drama of being a Hollywood talent agent. One woman lives with her girlfriend but is too afraid to come out to her overbearing parents. A mystery involving Edgar Allan Poe in the background.

Recommended: Yes, this is a fast read with lots of drama! This would be a good choice for a reading group because there is a reading guide at the end of the book.

If You’re Offended: Beware of moderate swearing and sexualized scenes.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “She would come home later and his anger would be forgotten. It was only the times when she stood up to him, the times she argued her point, that he got really mad and then violent.”     “She tried to remind herself that this was her husband, the man she loved, the man she might even have a child with soon. But as she studied him further, he seemed more and more like a stranger, and more and more like someone she used to know and used to love.”

 

Twinkie, Deconstructed by Steve Ettlinger

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Genre: Non-Fiction

Page Count: 282

Publication Date: 2007

Summary: Have you ever looked at a food’s ingredient list and wondered how the ingredients came to be? Some of them are so hard to pronounce that it is hard to imagine they began as a natural material but sure enough, all of the processed foods we eat started out as plants, animals, or minerals and only through much processing and chemistry (all around the world) did they become the ingredients we know them as today. This book explores the origins and science behind the most commonly found ingredients as found in the beloved Twinkie.

Recommended: Yes, particularly if you are interested in chemistry. This is one of those books that I found in a used book store and it sounded curiously interesting to me and indeed, it was.

If You’re Offended: No problems here.

Noteworthy Excerpts: “Sugar and its derivatives also have some surprising industrial uses: as a flame retardant and plasticizer in polyurethane foam, as a water-based ink for printing on plastic bags, for curing tobacco (spread on leaves to help them dry evenly), and, my personal favorite, for cleaning out cement mixers.”     “Phosphorous is the source of some of the most common chemicals used in everyday life. It’s also what puts the glow in tracer bullets and causes artillery shells to explode, because it bursts into flame when it makes contact with air. So it does seem odd that it’s part of the Twinkies recipe.”